Government’s Facial Recognition Scheme has its Risks

Proposed facial recognition system aims to support criminal investigations

The Government have plans to run a facial recognition system for criminal investigations using a real-time database of people’s driving licenses, passports and citizenship documents. This system would see all levels of government sharing data, and giving police agencies access to facial recognition and identity data. The Government is claiming that the regime aims to tackle fraud offences and organised crime, however, the risk of illegitimate use of personal information is stark.

Broad powers presents risks of illegitimate use of personal data

When people get their drivers license they will also be unknowingly sharing their personal information with police departments. Agencies will have the ability to identify a face in a crowd, establishing widespread surveillance. This means that CCTV footage can be easily accessed by police, and may be used to prosecute trivial conduct such as minor traffic offences, jaywalking or littering.  The proposed powers given to the Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs Department are too broad and places no limits on what may be done with the data. This has resulted in fears that private information could be passed on to private companies without permission which is an extremely illegitimate use of personal data.

Surveillance system in China

Such a surveillance system is in place in the southern city of Shenzhen in China. Their Government uses a facial recognition system that aims to identify missing family members, and, it has been used to crackdown on jaywalkers and people who commit minor offences. Pedestrians caught jaywalking have their photograph, name and social identification numbers instantly displayed on LED screens installed at Shenzhen road junctions. The Shenzhen police have also launched a website to name and shame offenders.

Facial recognition failures in the UK

The UK has been trialling similar facial recognition technology and has shown how fraught this new technology is. A trial by London police generated 102 false alerts, with another trial by South Wales police returning 2,400 false positives from CCTV footage gathered from football matches. Facial recognition technology presents the risk of mistaken identities which force innocent bystanders to prove their identity to police.

No safeguards for such a regime

The proposed surveillance system should not be implemented in Australia because it gives government agencies too much powers over the surveillance of the Australian people. There is a real risk of illegitimate use and an invasion of privacy. It is a waste of police resources that can lead to issues of false detections with no real impact on tackling serious crimes.

O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors are experts in criminal defence. If you have been charged with an offence, contact us on (02) 9261 4281 to get legal advice. 

Facial recognition system for criminal investigation enabled by CCTV cameras such as these

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Peter O'Brien

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